The following text comes from William Youatt’s The Pig: a Treatise on the Breeds, Management, Feeding, and Medical Treatment of Swine; with Directions for salting Pork and curing Bacon and Hams (1847 and 1860):
Every cottager with a family should purchase in the spring or summer a bacon pig, to cost about a sovereign (as old a pig as he can get for the money, of good breed), to be fed up to about four-and-twenty score at Christmas. The hams he can sell to buy another pig, and the rest will remain for his own consumption, without seeming to have cost anything. There is no savings bank for the labourer like a pig. Every week a shilling should be spent on meal, and this with a pig of a good sort, will make him grow and keep fresh, and require very little to finish off with at last. I heartily agree with the Dorsetshire squire Sturt’s speech, at an agricultural dinner, in 1857: “The grunting of a hog in a cottager’s sty, sounds sweeter than the song of a nightingale, and sides of bacon are the very best ornaments of the cottage walls.” If landlords and farmers would take the trouble to secure to the labourer in every rural parish, a comfortable, convenient cottage, with pigsty and garden, and a well-bred boar for parish use, they would have less reason to complain of the want of labour. There is too much talk about putting down beer-houses without putting up something in their stead, for the comfort and amusement of a class who have neither the mental nor the physical resources of their employers.
There can scarcely be conceived a greater contrast than between the system of prizes given for cottagers’ pigs and gardens in Yorkshire, and the system of giving a pound and coat for thirty years’ long service, practised in the south. It seems that it is quite as good a thing to win a fourth prize for a fat hog in Yorkshire as to live thirty years in one service without parish relief in Bucks and Berkshire; and I am not at all sure that the fat hog is not a better evidence of industry, sobriety, intelligence, and the main qualities that go to make a respectable man, than the certificates on which the pound and the coat are often awarded to the worn-out smock-frock man.
It is true that, in 1842, Mr. Edwin Chadwick, C.B., in his first sanitary report, said that “pig-keeping and cowkeeping were injurious to the condition of the labourer; that the labouring man pays more dearly for his bacon than he would if he purchased it ready made; that the possession of a pig created a temptation to steal; that a labourer had best depend on his wages alone,”—that is to say, have neither the amusement of a garden, nor the benefit of a live savings bank. But fortunately, since 1842 a reaction, almost an insurrection, has put an end to Mr. Ohadwick’s authority as paid commissioner and professional philanthropist, and stopped the circulation of social and sham-scientific fallacies at public expense. Most landowners and farmers, and every country parson who knows his duty, stirred up by S. G-. O., stimulated by the Rev. Charles Kingsley, and by the speeches of Tory squires, like Mr. Sturt, like to see a hog growing into money in a labourer’s sty, even although it does not exactly exhale a spice-island perfume, and may invite a little “mendicancy,” to use a hard word for slops and wash, amongst the junior chaw-bacons. But the Trapbois* class of philanthropists, anxious “for a consideration” to arrange the boarding, lodging, clothing, lighting, watering, and educating of the whole community on parallelogram plans, under the inspection of Boards, have very little sympathy with the rude and simple pleasures of the poor.
What a pleasant picture for Squire Sturt, or Parson Kingsley, or S. G. O.**, the Argus-eyed sharp-penned friend of the oppressed, wherever found, is the hard-working labourer, who, by denying himself many a pint of beer and many a pipe, by extra hours, and close economy on the part of the missus, has saved and bought a porker (one of the squire’s or the parson’s own sort, on the side of the boar), who has built a sty with his own hands, and set the whole family to work to feed the grunting stranger, from the eldest lad who wheels the barrow laden with a tub of wash, down to the petticoated infants who toddle forth hand in hand to collect sow-thistles or acorns. Artists of renown might do worse than take for a subject the Sunday evening round the sty,—when, surrounded by his hard-fed young ones, daddy in his shirt-sleeves, smoking the “Sunday pipe,” discusses with missus in her best gown and cap—the last baby in her arms—the manifold good qualities, the form, the skin, the ears, the hair, the pork-making propensities of his one specimen of farm live-stock; calculates the weight of the sides of fat bacon, to be eaten with home-grown cabbage, into which piggy is sure to grow; and while pleasantly scratching his head, makes the children’s mouths water with the promise of a feast of black pudding, fry, or even roast pork, with brown potatoes in the pan—to be enjoyed about Christmas time.
Then, again, in a pig-feeding village, there are all the delights and extravagances of the lending system, by which, practically, every pig-owner has a share in his neighbour’s pig, each lending the other lights, or chitterlings, or even a spare-rib, repaid as each kills his own pig. These make up to the villager the bank, the stock exchange, and the theatre, the concert-rooms of Canterbury Hall and the Britannia, which town-folk monopolize. As for the tragedy of the pig-killing, that is one of the great events, a perfect Victoria drama to the boys of our village (pg 89-91).
These words may not sound like it, but for their time, they are pretty progressive.
In post-Enclosure movement England, there were large numbers of tenant farmers who were forced to live in cottages, where they worked lands they would never own. These cottiers or cottagers were at the bottom rung of the rural working class in England, and their lives were far from roseate. They could be expelled at virtually any time, and they had to pay rents in the form of either a percentage of their crops or in money.
These were conditions in which many nineteenth century reformers railed against the landowners.
In the text, Youatt is actually offering to landowners a solution that he thinks will improve the lot of these rural cottager.
Cottagers were allotted only a small bit of land, which meant they didn’t have a lot of resources to raise animals. Youatt thinks that allowing them to keep pigs, which are (of course) improved through the use of a highly-bred boar belonging to the landowner, will give them a source of income and civic pride, as well as a past time that will keep them away from the beer halls.
Pigs can be fattened on refuse, and they don’t need large areas to roam.
They are a cheaply maintained source of protein and fat, which are often harder for working class people to obtain.
So in this rather weird way, Youatt is encouraging landowners to encourage their cottagers to keep hogs.
Pork has always been the meat of the poor. Without access to pasture lands to graze cattle, hogs have been a relatively cheap source for meat.
It is somewhat strange to see that pig-keeping would be suggested as way of making lives better in Victorian rural cottages, but at the time, it actually did make some sense.
* A reference to a fictional usurer.
**Sidney Godolphin Osborne, a noted social reformer and clergyman, who was most famous for his accounts of the Irish famine.